The Problem of Evil

Usually I only post about things that I feel like I have figured out.  Not necessarily that I know I am for sure right, but that I know exactly what I believe about it and therefore feel comfortable sharing it.  That is not, however, the case with this one.

Really I have only been thinking much of this since yesterday.  I realized that in light of new ways of understanding things, my old model for this doesn’t really make any sense.  I’m not sure it ever really made sense in my old way of understanding either, and I guess not that much changes… because even still mankind’s evil choices only explain a certain amount of evil in the world.  Things like cancer, and birth defects, and natural disasters all seem to be manifestations of evil.

When one understands God to be the one who ultimately makes both the good and the bad to happen.  If you need Biblical support for that, try Isaiah 45:7 – “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.”  This idea is present throughout much of the Old Testament.  As these are Jewish scriptures, it is easy to see why a Jewish person would not believe in an entity such as is the Christian understanding of Satan.  God brings both well-being and calamity, there is no need for a figure such as Satan to explain it.

This is quite naturally troubling to us as humans.  This is, after all, supposed to be a God of love, and yet He at best allows terrible things to happen to us (a la Job), and at worst is Himself directly causing those things to happen.  These are things that hurt us and cause us pain, and in the more extreme examples, we cannot see any satisfying purpose in the suffering.  When a young child dies in terrible pain from sickness or from abuse, is there anything that can come of that which would make us see it as not a terrible evil?

This question of evil is a very old one.  It is entirely what the story of Job is about, and Job is believed to be the oldest book of the Bible, dating back to about 1500 BC.  We as humans have been struggling with this idea ever since then, and we are perhaps no closer to understanding it now than we were then.  What is the great reasoning for Job’s suffering in the book of Job?   Apparently so that God could prove to Satan that Job really was a totally loyal guy that would still keep doing the right thing even if his blessings were taken away.  There you have it, as least God isn’t insecure or anything…

Oh, but if that isn’t satisfying enough we go on to get this answer (In Job 38-39):

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and its features stand out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.

16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.

19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
    and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
    and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
    and the number of your days is great!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
    or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
    for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
    or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
    and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is,
    on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
    and to make the ground sprout with grass?

28 “Has the rain a father,
    or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth,
    and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone,
    and the face of the deep is frozen.

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
    or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
    Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
    and the clods stick fast together?

39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
    or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
    when its young ones cry to God for help,
    and wander about for lack of food?

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you observe the calving of the does?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
    and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,
    and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open;
    they go out and do not return to them.

“Who has let the wild donkey go free?
    Who has loosed the bonds of the swift donkey,
to whom I have given the arid plain for his home
    and the salt land for his dwelling place?
He scorns the tumult of the city;
    he hears not the shouts of the driver.
He ranges the mountains as his pasture,
    and he searches after every green thing.

“Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
    Will he spend the night at your manger?
10 Can you bind him in the furrow with ropes,
    or will he harrow the valleys after you?
11 Will you depend on him because his strength is great,
    and will you leave to him your labor?
12 Do you have faith in him that he will return your grain
    and gather it to your threshing floor?

13 “The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
    but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
14 For she leaves her eggs to the earth
    and lets them be warmed on the ground,
15 forgetting that a foot may crush them
    and that the wild beast may trample them.
16 She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
    though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
17 because God has made her forget wisdom
    and given her no share in understanding.
18 When she rouses herself to flee,
    she laughs at the horse and his rider.

19 “Do you give the horse his might?
    Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
20 Do you make him leap like the locust?
    His majestic snorting is terrifying.
21 He paws in the valley and exults in his strength;
    he goes out to meet the weapons.
22 He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
    he does not turn back from the sword.
23 Upon him rattle the quiver,
    the flashing spear, and the javelin.
24 With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
    he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
25 When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’
    He smells the battle from afar,
    the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

26 “Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars
    and spreads his wings toward the south?
27 Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
    and makes his nest on high?
28 On the rock he dwells and makes his home,
    on the rocky crag and stronghold.
29 From there he spies out the prey;
    his eyes behold it from far away.
30 His young ones suck up blood,
    and where the slain are, there is he.”

And there you have it.  The explanation essentially boils down to this:  We have so little knowledge and understanding of the world around us that we couldn’t possibly hope to comprehend something like this.  That is the answer of the author of Job (and/or the answer of God) to this question.  It’s ultimately my answer to the question as well, as unsatisfying as it is.  I don’t believe a satisfying answer is possible here… at least not without answering a whole host of other questions which we likely don’t even know enough to identify.

I have spoken before of how I tend to understand God as a storyteller, and this does help me to understand some of the pain and suffering out there.  We discover who we really are in our suffering, just as we discover who the characters in the stories we love really are as they suffer.  No author delights in the suffering of those he created…  it can be hard to hurt or kill a character in your story, but sometimes it’s what the story needs.  Of course, life isn’t literally a story (or maybe it is, how would I know if it was?), but this is the most satisfying answer I can think of.

The title of my post is quite similar to the title of a book by C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.  I just sort of typed the first thing that came to mind, but I’m sure it was subconsciously inspired by it, as I almost immediately thought of that book when I started typing about this.  It’s been a long time since I read it, and after looking over some excerpts from it I don’t think he quite achieved a satisfying resolution on the subject, but I do want to share a quote that I think captures a good deal of truth.  It doesn’t outright answer the question of why such a world exists with the laws that it does, and I’m not quite sure what exactly it does answer… but to me it feels like it does answer something.

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” – C.S. Lewis

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